Bob Lenarduzzi out as Vancouver Whitecaps president

MLS team is at the bottom of the Western Conference standings

Vancouver Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi responds to questions during a news conference after the MLS soccer team was eliminated from the playoffs, in Vancouver on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi responds to questions during a news conference after the MLS soccer team was eliminated from the playoffs, in Vancouver on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Bob Lenarduzzi is out as president of the Vancouver Whitecaps as the club struggles in the standings and continues to grapple with harassment allegations.

But the Canadian soccer stalwart still believes he has a lot to offer the club in a new role.

“I’ve been at it for 45 years. The last year has been a difficult one, no question,” he told reporters on Friday after the Major League Soccer team announced that it is eliminating the role of president.

Instead, the Whitecaps have started a global search for a sporting director who will lead the technical direction of the club and report directly to ownership.

“Given the opportunity that’s been presented, I think that there is room for club growth,” Lenarduzzi said. “And given the investment that’s being talked about … I see this club going in the right direction.”

The new sporting director will likely come from outside of the league and will need to be an entrepreniual type who can re-write the rules when it comes to things like analytics, said ‘Caps co-owner Jeff Mallett.

The club would like to hire someone by the end of the MLS season but is willing to wait for the right candidate, he added.

“We need to step it up and continue to invest and get ourselves in a position to compete across every level and everything we’re doing here at the football club,” Mallett said.

Lenarduzzi will stay with the ‘Caps as a club liaison. He described the role as being about building and growing relationships between the club and various other organizations, and about ensuring the Whitecaps are “significantly” represented on the Canadian national team, especially as the country prepares to co-host the 2026 World Cup.

Fans began calling for Lenarduzzi to be dismissed this season as the rebuilt team failed to produce results on the field, tying a club record five-game losing streak in July. Vancouver sits last in the West with a record of 5-12-9.

He also came under fire earlier this year for how the club navigated an alleged decade-old abuse scandal with a Whitecaps women’s team.

RELATED: Whitecaps supporters continue to protest abuse, harassment allegations

Doctored images of Lenarduzzi wearing a clown nose and plastered with the hashtag #BobbyOut were spotted around B.C. Place during some games this season.

He said he’s well aware of the public criticism.

“If I were to suggest it hadn’t bothered me, I’d be lying. Because it impacts you,” he said. “Having said that, I signed on for the job and I’ve been through it as a player, as a coach and as the president. So I accept it. It comes with the territory. And my hope is that with the announcements today, moving forward I can be a big part of changing that narrative as well.”

Lenarduzzi, 64, started with the Whitecaps as a player in 1974, then served as the team’s coach, director of soccer operations and general manager before being appointed president in 2007.

The Vancouver native is a fixture in Canada’s soccer community, having made 47 appearances with the national squad, including stops at the 1984 Olympics and 1986 World Cup. He also coached the team between 1992 and 1997.

Lenarduzzi had already been installed as the Whitecaps’ president when Vancouver was awarded the second Canadian MLS franchise in 2009.

While the ‘Caps have seen some success since entering the league in 2011, the club did not qualify for the playoffs in five of nine seasons of MLS play. The team has never made it past the conference semifinals, last going that far in 2017 when the Seattle Sounders ousted the Whitecaps from contention.

Recently, Whitecaps fans have seemed to tire of the club’s lack of success and its response to allegations that a former coach of the women’s team had bullied, harassed and abused players more than a decade earlier.

Mallett finally spoke about the controversy and offered victims an apology at the beginning of May, more than two months after the allegations surfaced.

On Friday, Mallett said the scandal was not a factor in the club’s structural changes.

The Whitecaps host D.C. United on Saturday night.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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